Beloved, Coinherent Community
When I first stumbled onto Rivendell, I wasn’t sure what to think of you all. A bunch of Episcopalians who’d gone and named themselves after an Elven house from Middle Earth? But I was looking for a way to deepen my Christian discipleship, and among all of the options and communities, I kept being drawn back to all of you all again and again. And, truth be told, I love Middle Earth.
But the moment that really got the ball rolling for me I don’t think I’ve shared with all of you, and it has to do with Charles Williams’ notion of coinherence—that we’re all interwoven, one with another, with creation, with God, that we’re called to bear one another’s burdens, and that the ways we’re connected, across time and space and hearts, are subtle, mind-boggling, and often entirely unknown to us.
Now I’m not a huge fan of Charles Williams’ writing style. I find him unnecessarily difficult, and admittedly, I’ve never actually finished reading a single book he’s written—and I’ve started several of them. The closest I’ve come is with The Descent of the Dove—his history of the Holy Spirit within the life of the Church. And I’ve been trying to finish that book for years now. So when I first found Rivendell, back in 2015 (I’d actually read about you all well before that, but when I first seriously found you), I had no idea that Charles Williams was a Community Saint, woven into our Rule of Life and celebrated on our calendar.
But here’s how the story goes: I was sitting at my desk one day and I found my mind drawn for whatever reason to that book—The Descent of the Dove—which I probably hadn’t picked up for a few years. And so I went and found it on my shelf, and opened it to the postscript in the very back of the book. And I read for the first time his description of what he called “The Order of the Coinherence.” He beautifully describes the way a child coinheres with its mother in the womb, the way the Incarnation points to the coinherence of the Divine and human, and the Trinity to the coinherence at the very heart of God. Everything exists in community, in relationship—what the Buddhists would call “interdependent co-arising” or the South Africans, ubuntu.
And he says in that postscript that we need communities that are consciously about this work of coinherence, of bearing one another’s burdens in what he calls acts of “substituted love.” And so he proposes the Order of the Coinherence; he writes:
About this there need be little organization; it could do no more than communicate an increased awareness of that duty which is part of the very nature of the Church itself. But in our present distresses, of international and social schism, among the praises of separation here or there, the pattern might be stressed, the image affirmed. The Order of the Coinherence would exist only for that, to meditate and practice it. The principle is one of the open secrets of the saints; we might draw the smallest step nearer sanctity if we used it.
Well, I was blown away by the proposal, which today seems even more relevant: “... in our present distresses, of international and social schism, among the praises of separation here or there, the pattern [of our interabiding, our coinherence] might be stressed, the image affirmed [—that we are one].” As we have been separating children from their families at our southern border, as we become increasingly polarized as a society, what more do we need than communities living and serving as icons of our interconnection, calling us back to the truth that in Christ we are not separate, none of us—that we never have been and never can be?
Well, after I read this passage, this postscript, I felt compelled to go back and dig around on the website of that weird Rivendell Community again. And what did I find as I clicked on an old Rivendell Review, but Mother Virginia quoting from the postscript I’d just read, and concluding that:
Since this Order [of the Coinherence] has no special organization or constitution, other than that which it pleases our Lord the Spirit to provide, Rivendell Companions may be considered, if they like, as among the Companions of the Co-inherence to whom The Descent of the Dove is dedicated.”
Well, the synchronicity of reading these two things side by side and completely unintentionally on my part was indeed mind-boggling to me and seemed to be more coinherence than coincidence. And so I got to work right away at e-mailing Virginia and applying for postulancy—and am so happy that I’ll be taking first vows with you this weekend.
As we work around this theme of the Beloved Community, we can see the Beloved Community as not other than the Coinherent Community, and that our work as Rivendellians—as members, should we so choose to imagine it, of the Order of the Coinherence—is to be an icon of that Love that interweaves the worlds and that works for justice and reconciliation on every front, meeting the needs and pains of the coinherent web in which we all are held. And that we are called to do that specifically through our charism of prayer and hospitality.
From our Rule of Life: “We consent to bear one another’s burdens freely, in whatever ways are given us, visible and invisible, known and unknown.” This is, of course, an intentional echo of Charles Williams vision woven into the Rule. And when we say we consent to bear one another’s burdens, I can’t imagine that means just within this community, but within the whole Beloved Community of creation; to bear the burdens of the planet; and that we are called right now to bear the burdens of these separated families, and to work for their speedy reunion and healing in whatever ways we are given.
In our Gospel reading, Jesus said: “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcome the One who sent me... and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.” This is an image of coinherence: that in welcoming the other, we welcome Christ; that in welcoming Christ, we welcome the One (the only One!); and that especially in serving the least of these and the little ones, we do the work that is most truly ours as Christians.
And again, from our reading from First John: “We know love by this, that he [Jesus] laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.” Not only in dying, but in loving and serving, and bearing one another’s burdens beyond all borders and boundaries—be they national, religious, ethnic, or political. And so may we be about the work of the Order of the Coinherence.
The last words I give to Charles Williams:
Blessed be He that He has made us members one of another and all members of Him… Blessed be He that He has quickened among [us] the unity, exchange and substitution of love which is the pattern of Himself… Blessed be He that He continually makes all things new.